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  • Writer's pictureJane Ritzenthaler

Down Under

Updated: May 29

I’m here! And it was totally a God thing that I am. Most of you know that I’m a retiree from what is now American Airlines (I worked for America West back when it was a startup airline based in Tempe, Arizona). I’m able to list myself on a special site just for retired employees for trips anywhere American flies, in standby status. Which is what I did for this adventure. My first segment was from Phoenix to Los Angeles (LAX) and then a non-stop to Sydney, Australia. I had been closely watching the statistics the closer it got to the departure date. The day before I was to leave, there were still 62 seats available. The plane was a Boeing 777-300, with 304 seats, and first class, business, premium economy and back of the bus. I was confident that I would get on the flight, and there was even a possibility of snagging business class. That’s the section with the individual pods with seats that fold down flat. But capturing that is based on your position on the boarding list once you’ve checked in for the flight online. And that can be done no more than 24 hours before the flight, And it gets even more complicated…all standby passengers have a priority designation, based on whether they are active employees, retirees (like me), guest pass travelers, or other lesser designations. Your place on the boarding list is based on the time you checked in within your priority designation.

Okay, now the “fun” begins. My flight to LAX was scheduled to depart Wednesday the 15th at 5:01 PM. So Tuesday at 4:50, I was at my laptop, watching the clock and waiting. A seat in business class was at stake here, after all. When the clock showed 5:01, I clicked on Check In, and waited while the circle spun. Then to my disbelief and horror, a red message appeared: “Something went wrong.” My heart sank. What on earth could go wrong? I’ve been doing this for many moons, and never ran into this. The error message told me I wasn’t able to check in online, and should go the the airport ticket counter or kiosk. Living 1-1/2 hours away from the airport, that certainly wasn’t an option. So I spent the next several minutes refreshing the page, trying other browsers, even trying from Mike’s laptop. No luck…same error message. Meanwhile, I could look on the priority list and see that several other standbys had successfully checked in.

I searched the retiree site and found a telephone number for Team Support. I called, telling them my dilemma. The guy hemmed and hawed, saying there had been problems with the retiree site, but there was nothing he could do. Except transfer me to the Help Desk. After 20 minutes on hold, they weren’t any. They transferred me back to Team Support, but they were closed for the day.

Reality was setting in. I might have to cancel my trip, and lose hundreds of dollars in hotel reservations that it was too late to cancel for free. But the more important consideration was, is God trying to tell me something? Am I not supposed to go for some unknown reason? I talked to both my kids, Mike and Amy, and asked them to pray for wisdom. And Wednesday morning at the staff meeting at Calvary Chapel, I did the same.

If I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I was wrong.

I discovered that the flight from Phoenix to LAX now had only 3 seats available, and 21 standbys, most of whom checked in online, and were now on the list. But all that prayer had left me feeling at peace. I had told everyone at the staff meeting that I only wanted what God wanted. So after talking to Mike Wednesday, I decided that since I hadn’t seen a burning bush aka Abraham and Isaac, I would buy a ticket on Southwest at approximately the same time as the one on American and see what would happen at the American ticket counter at LAX, There was a chance, of course, that it could still fall apart, and I’d have to fly back to Phoenix.

But I launched out in faith and took the airport shuttle to Sky Harbor. Flew on Southwest to LAX, and walked to the terminal where American is located. Since I was there over 4 hours prior to my Sydney flight, I was directed to the Special Services counter. When I explained my situation to Jessica, she just shook her head. My heart sank into my stomach. She’d had the same issue with another retiree a few days before. She got her supervisor involved, and it ended up all being because the computer had mis-labeled my designation. As a retiree, my regular status is D2R, but I am allotted a certain number of vacation passes, which has the same status as active employees: D1. That's the top position in the boarding priority list. But for some reason, it wasn't accepting that status.

Are you rolling your eyes yet? Me too. But God was giving me unusual patience, and even though Jessica had me call the very same “Help” number I’d called before (and waited another 20 minutes on hold), this time they really helped! They had to create a new listing and change my status back to D2R, and Jessica was finally able to check me in! And there were now 80 seats available, but even so, business class probably wouldn’t happen,

But God continued to bless me. When the flight was boarding, the guy at the gate started calling up the standbys. I definitely wasn’t one of the first ones - number 11, actually. But he offered me either a middle seat in Premium Economy, or a seat in Economy with no one beside me. I chose Premium Economy. The seats are bigger, with footrests, and the food is better (according to a flight attendant.). Turned out it was a bulkhead seat, in the middle section with 4 seats. We’d all gotten settled, and the guy from the ticket counter showed up and told me I was being moved to Business class! What?? I hurriedly grabbed all my stuff, said goodby to my seat mates, and headed into the aisle. But a flight attendant appeared and told me the passenger had just showed up, the moment they were closing the doors. Rats. So close! But I actually wasn’t upset. Just proved to me that God cared for me. And as it turned out, I was able to sleep probably 5 hours of the 15+ hour flight to Sydney. (And the food was definitely better…)

Wow. This has turned into a veritable epic. So I’ll try to summarize the rest of today.

The flight left at 10:45 Wednesday night, and arrived a bit early at 6:30 am Friday in Sydney. Lost Thursday somewhere over the Pacific. Landed with the sun trying to break through the fog. Moved through all the customs stuff, and realizing I was in no hurry - I couldn’t check into my apartment/hotel until 2:00 - I took my time buying a SIM card for my phone so I could call not only folks in Australia, but in the States as well. Also bought an Opal card, which is a discount card covering travel on trains and buses. Then I found my way to the train from the airport to downtown Sydney, ending up after one change at Kings Cross station. It was just a few short blocks to my hotel, and when I arrived at 9:30 or so, was delighted to discover my room was available! It’s a 5 story building with a roof deck overlooking Sydney. My room is on the 4th floor, but in the US we’d call it the 5th floor. Here, just like the UK, the main level is Ground, and the next one up is the first floor. The roof deck is just down the hall from my room. Which has a fabulous view!

Feeling absolutely no jet lag, after unpacking (and brushing my teeth) I walked around the neighborhood, which reminded me of neighborhoods in London. Then I decided to take a Big Bus Hop on/Hop Off tour of Sydney. Amy and I did the same thing in London last summer. Great way to get an overview. Mine also includes a harbor tour, which I’ll be doing Sunday. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow (Saturday in this time zone).

My room has a kitchenette, so I’ll be able to avoid having to eat all meals in restaurants. I inquired about a nearby grocery store, and was directed to Coles, only a 4 minute walk away. I was blown away! Tons of local produce, amazing baked goods and lots of organic items. I loaded up, and when I checked out, it came to $53 Australian. Considering I bought eggs, bacon, bread, butter, cheese, crackers, fresh soups, freshly squeezed OJ, bananas, salad stuff…that would have been about right for Basha’s. But in US dollars, that came to $35.

Okay, I’ll close for the day…photos and videos below!

Sorry, having trouble showing videos…will try again tomorrow! But the final photo of an Australian wine I found tonight says it all: This whole experience has been a miracle!

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